Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Get your head around this if you can

A quick email check has just turned up a press release from the Australian Society of Authors:


The Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the principal advocate for the professional and artistic interests of Australian authors, has condemned the recent decision of the Wollongong Mall management to ban readings in the Mall by poets from the South Coast Writers’ Centre during National Poetry Week.

According to Mall management, poetry reading cannot have any political or religious content. Without such a guarantee, management refused to allow the proposed readings to go ahead. This is despite the fact that the Mall management allows Christmas carols to be performed, as well as the occasional political protest. The “seditious intent” of poetry though seems too much for Wollongong Mall.

ASA Executive Director Dr Jeremy Fisher said: “These sorts of decisions highlight the problems caused by the sedition provisions of the Government’s anti-terrorist laws. Administrators of public property feel it is safer to totally prohibit public performance rather than risk anti-government comments being made. This of course is exactly what sedition laws are designed to do — stifle public debate.”

Significantly, Mall policy on this issue was amended and ratified in November 2005, at the same time the anti-terrorist measures were being pushed through Federal Parliament.

The South Coast writers have not been deterred by the Mall management’s actions, however. A protest reading, featuring political and religious poems, is planned to be held in Wollongong on 6 September. The ASA urges all authors to support the right of South Coast poets to read their works untrammelled in public.

Dr Jeremy Fisher
Executive Director
Australian Society of Authors
PO Box 1566 Strawberry Hills NSW 2016
+61 (0)2 9318 0877 Fax: +61 (0)2 9318 0530
0438 318 673

So richly ripe is this ruling for mockery that I scarcely know where to start, but perhaps I had better not start at all; poking fun at it on a blog is probably seditious as well.

This kind of bureaucratic interference is on a par with the role of the hapless Detective Vogelsang in the unfolding of the Ern Malley affair, and suggests the same degree of incomprehension. You have to wonder what on earth they think they mean by 'politics' and 'religion'. What poem -- indeed, what human utterance -- is not to some degree or another, if only by the power of omission, shot through and through with either politics or religion, or with both?

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.


  1. Dear Kerryn,
    Could you pass this message on to Sarsaparilla please ?
    Wed 30.8.06

    Sasha Soldatow died peacefully at St Vincents
    Hospital, Darlinghurst today at 4.30a.m.

    Pam Brown

  2. Truly, this is outrageous. The challenge, of course, is to capitalise on it. Gwen Harwood used to joke that if we could only get poetry banned, then everyone would be reading it. I'm glad the ASA has taken up the cause. Here in Victoria the key figure in the sedition debate is Michael Leunig. Does this mean his poem about the duck should be retrospectively deleted from the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? And ... does he know about this case????

  3. Something like Gwen's line (but nowhere near as elegant) occurred to me, too -- this should get poetry more attention, including press, than it has had for a long time. I also thought of Auden, who may have said 'Poetry makes nothing happen', but who also said 'I have no gun, but I can spit.'

  4. Thanks for posting the note yesterday Kerryn,
    All good thoughts,

  5. Pam, I was sorry to hear about Sasha. I'd met him a few times; we had a mutual friend in Judy Brett, who was very fond of him and will also have been saddened by his death.

  6. very shortsighted approach in my opinion. malls elsewhere have been known to play barry manilow and other muzacky treats to scare off the naughty kids. what could be more dissuading to loitering yoof than a poets reading?